The coyote raised her nose higher to test the afternoon air. Across the broad valley, where rugged cap rock edge met with soft blue sky, stark earth shimmered and wavered slightly, while only twenty feet away, the shape of a lone male, sitting in the shade of a mesquite thicket, stood out plainly. The female rested comfortably inside her shallow lair, studying him through half-closed eyes.
He too remained motionless, but for his oversized ears, both of which twitched or changed positions at regular intervals. He did keep a steady gaze on her den entrance, however, watching with a well-earned self-confidence. At his feet lay his small gift, intended only for her.
She glanced away briefly, seeming to act as if he never before existed , but she continually sniffed at the air for clues. From somewhere close by, a mockingbird trilled a brief medley, over and over.
The female had bred for the first time in the early part of January, but three weeks ago, and exactly fourteen days after the birth of her two pups, a sharp-eyed hunter took aim and fired a single shot from the front seat of his pickup truck. His bullet had then went spiraling through space to slam into the skull of her partner and lover.
The male’s untimely death put an end to him as the provider for her and their new family, and several days were to pass before she stumbled across what remained of his carcass. She had run from the sight filled with fear.
Recently she met the unattached male who now sat near her den, zealously guarding his fresh-caught mouse and waiting for her signal. He lowered his head for a moment, his nose nudging the dead rodent once before looking back in her direction.
The ravenous female suddenly sprang to her feet, and the two pups, eyes barely opened, both began to whimper. She turned to huff sternly at the noisome pair. Each hushed at the sound of her comforting voice. Only then did she dare to leave her hidden place.
The male had vanished before she could reach the mouse, off to hunt for more prey. She in turn trotted back to her home with both ears laid back flat, and with the limp mouse held securely in her jaws.
That night the male took up a position on a rise not far from the thicket. Inside the safety of her cozy den, the she-dog began to nurse her offspring. After a ritual marking around his area with fresh urine, the coyote, reveling in the glory of his own perfume, tilted his head back to sing an ancient composition
My brothers, hear my voice Remember this night as The Great Brilliance above us revolves in its slow dance Rejoice that she has chosen to become my lifelong mate, and that this area and all of its food now belong to us And, take heed
Far away, a brother answered. After a time, a third coyote joined in. Any human being, when hearing the primordial song for the first time, would respond with a shudder.
For a while, their scattered howls traveled for miles up and down the ancient canyon as kin sang to kin, and on this night, some of their notes even reached all the way to the sleeping little town of Hardwood Falls.
Floyd Weed drove slowly through the dark outskirts of town, searching for a house. After finding the right one, he parked next to the curb, and then turned the key to kill the motor. Next he switched off the headlights. Reaching for a cigarette, he lit it with a steady right hand, while at the same time rolling down his side window with his other. The night air drifted in to wash over his aching shoulders as he leaned his head back to exhale.
His fatigued body seemed to vibrate in the bucket seat, while his mind played realistic sounds of automobile tires speeding across unending stretches of freeway.
Floyd took in deep draws from the cigarette, the red glow illuminating just the heel of his palm. Then unmoving, he stared down the street without seeing, all the while listening to sporadic clicking sounds that came from the engine compartment. Their irregular rhythms helped put his mind at ease, and right after flicking the spent stub out to the middle of the roadway, he shut his road-weary eyes.
When he reopened them, the motor had cooled down completely, and everything around him lay silent. Feeling slightly refreshed but greatly disoriented, he opened the door of his car to step outside.
Down the street from where he had parked, a single light pole labored to compete with the Milky Way. Closer to the earth, a thin layer of fog had now settled over some of the adjacent houses. The weary traveler shivered once as he approached the driveway. Two cars he had never seen before, both wearing a fine covering of wet mist, sat silent and parked side by side. He turned to follow a curving sidewalk which would lead him to the front door of the residence.
A familiar but ghostly form of a century plant loomed off to one side. He pictured the huge agaves rising from its sterile bed of rose-colored lava rock as he hurried on past with hushed footsteps, but just as he reached the wrought-iron gate, he paused to listen to a remote sound that tugged at his soul. Unsure of what the faint sounds were at first, Floyd Weed suddenly smiled at the recognition of the far-away coyote song, but then that was quickly followed by a feeling of dread.
I hope that isn’t a bad sign. No lights are visible inside the house. The clock out in the car showed eleven-thirty. Maybe I should have called. But it is Friday. Eleven-thirty isn’t all that late; not for a Friday. Not really. She should be awake. Come on. I drove all this way. She can’t get mad knowing that.
Somewhere ahead, two large ornate doors stood guard over the darkened sanctuary. He unlatched the high gate easily, stepped inside and shut it soundlessly. Five steps further took him into an outer alcove, framed on both sides by the house itself. Once Floyd stepped up onto the porch, the distant yips became undetectable, and the sounds were all but gone from his mind by the time he pressed the doorbell.
He counted to nine before hearing rustling sounds coming from inside. A low-pitched voice murmured something unintelligible once, and then again as the porch light came on. He heard tumblers click twice before one of the doors opened, and a stranger appeared in the doorway.